Shawn Lawson appears in Athens County Common Pleas Court on May 9. (Susan Tebben/WOUB News)

Alleged Serial Sex Offender Appears In Court, May Face More Charges

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An Athens man accused of perpetrating multiple rapes and crimes within the city may face more charges, authorities said on Tuesday.

Shawn J. Lawson, Jr., 26, of Hawks Nest Road in Athens, is charged with three counts of kidnapping, three counts of felonious assault, one count of attempted rape, two counts of rape and two counts of aggravated burglary.

Shawn Lawson, Jr.
Shawn Lawson, Jr.

The investigation has been ongoing since early 2016, when Athens Police Chief Tom Pyle told the public that police were looking for a serial sex offender.

The cases were reported to have occurred on June 11, 2006, June 20, 2015, and Dec. 12, 2015. Police say the assaults occurred under “similar circumstances,” with the female victims walking home alone from the uptown area early in the morning, according to previous WOUB reporting.

But Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn said in a press conference Tuesday afternoon, along with Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and other Athens County law enforcement, that Lawson may face more charges in a March 2017 Lancaster case. Blackburn said the charges had not yet been filed in Fairfield County.

The Lancaster case and the Athens cases may be solved because of a DNA link that was made in testing by the Attorney General’s Office’s Bureau for Criminal Identification & Investigation (BCI&I). Lawson’s DNA was collected via subpoena.

After the Athens investigation went cold, APD Lt. Jeff McCall said investigators decided to use a tool called Touch DNA, which DeWine said  isn’t typically used in cases because it’s not always a feasible option.

“Literally what it means is exactly what it says, the ability to take DNA off of something that is touched,” DeWine said at the Tuesday press conference.

The tests led to a hit from the BCI&I DNA database, which is being used to test rape kits from decades-old cases in an effort to solve them.

“But for that initiative, the 2006 rape case would never have been tested and DNA would never have been identified,” Blackburn said Tuesday.

Blackburn described Lawson as a “transient” worker, and said that transient work may have led to crimes in other areas.

“I think I would say it’s possible he was transient in his work, and so, there may be victims outside the state of Ohio and there may be rape kits that haven’t been tested elsewhere,” Blackburn said. “I think the AG’s office is going to help us with trying to ascertain that information.”

The oldest alleged crime Lawson faces would have occurred when he was 15-years-old and a student at Alexander High School. Lawson has a previous record as a juvenile, Blackburn said, and was previously convicted in Athens County of operating a vehicle while under the influence while in possession of a firearm.

For the OVI charge, Lawson entered the county’s diversion program and was required to report any contact with law enforcement.

“Because Lawson, Jr., failed to report his law enforcement contact with the Lancaster authorities, he was in violation of the (diversion) program,” a press release from the prosecutor’s office stated.

Blackburn said Lawson was arrested Monday at the prosecutor’s office after a “random drug test that wasn’t so random.”

Lawson was indicted by an Athens County Grand Jury, according to an indictment filed on Monday.

In his arraignment Tuesday, Lawson did not make any comment. Doug Francis, of the Ohio Public Defender’s Office, spoke on his behalf, entering pleas of not guilty on all charges.

“He looks forward to clearing his name and denies these allegations,” Francis said in Athens County Common Pleas Court.

Blackburn asked Judge George McCarthy to assign Lawson $1 million bond for each of the three victims in the case.

“He is facing a prison term longer than his current life on this Earth and he is under investigation in Lancaster, Ohio, for similar conduct,” Blackburn said.

McCarthy agreed to the $3 million, and did not allow Lawson to post 10 percent of his bond to be released.

Should he post bond, Lawson was ordered to have no contact with the victims in the case, and to appear to all hearings related to the case. The next hearing was scheduled for June.

Read the full indictment here: Lawson indictment


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